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Gold Sparkle Trio With Ken Vandermark - Brooklyn Cantos

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Artist: Gold Sparkle Trio With Ken Vandermark

Album: Brooklyn Cantos

Label: Squealer

Review date: Feb. 13, 2005

Brooklyn Cantos features the Gold Sparkle Band, except the ubiquitous Ken Vandermark replaces sometime trumpeter Roger Ruzow. Vandermark’s presence here isn’t a surprise – he’s performed with Gold Sparkle members before – and neither does it suggest that Brooklyn will be much of a departure: the Gold Sparkle Band has always been something like the Atlanta / New York equivalent to the Vandermark 5 anyway. Both groups play ’60s-style free jazz sprinkled with bits of more traditional forms of jazz and rock.

Both groups sometimes play beats and melodies that sound influenced by rock, but they’ve borrowed more from rock than just a few riffs. The Gold Sparkle Band and the Vandermark 5 also share rock’s attention to form. Their pieces are generally very compact for avant-garde jazz, and their composed sections are usually more intricate and better-conceived than those of otherwise relatively similar players, such as, for example, David S. Ware.

The most important causes of Vandermark’s relative financial success as a free jazz musician are undoubtedly his constant touring and hard work. Right behind those, however, is the fact that he plays to mostly indie rock-weaned audiences who appreciate that his pieces probably won’t last twenty minutes and are likely to contain at least one smart riff and one deft transition before they’re over. With the Vandermark 5 and the Gold Sparkle Band, the listener gets the sense that the composed sections are never far away, even when the players are improvising.

As for that improvising: it’s always capable and enthusiastic but never spectacular. None of these players is as clear and logical as, say, Fred Anderson or Joe Morris; none possesses a sound as unique as Arthur Doyle’s, for example, or as hair-raisingly huge as someone like Paul Flaherty’s. Vandermark and company often begin and end phrases awkwardly here – the beginning of Vandermark’s solo on “’Burg Girl” is almost wince inducing.

These awkward elements aren't the deal-breakers you might think they would be. In most combo jazz, the improvising is primary and the composing is secondary; for Vandermark and the Gold Sparkle Band, the opposite is true. During the solo section on the excellent “Game Over,” I find myself listening more to the changes in the vamp from bassist Adam Roberts than to the improvised solo itself; I admire the way Vandermark and fellow reedist Charles Waters sneak into one another’s solos. During “Carpet Quarterbagger,” I pay as much attention to Roberts and Andrew Barker’s irrepressible New Orleans-style groove as I do to the saxophone improvisations. The compositions on Brooklyn Cantos, most of which were written by Waters and Barker, are as fun as anything the Gold Sparkle Band has released since 2000’s Nu Soul Zodiac.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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